During Hispanic Heritage Month, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Marlene Rodriguez, who served three tours in Iraq.
Marlene Rodriguez grew up in San Bernardino, California. “I wanted to go into the military from a very young age; I’d say like five years old,” she recalled during an interview with Wells Fargo. Rodriguez joined the Army in 2003, when she was 23 years old.
In the Army, Rodriguez served as a motor transportation operator hauling a variety of cargo, including equipment, weapons and hazardous materials. In four years’ time, she went from private to staff sergeant commanding a convoy, which often took her unit into combat zones.
With the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Rodriguez volunteered to support the 2003 invasion. After her tour, she returned home until deployment orders sent her back to Iraq. In 2005, Rodriguez was driving at night with one of her soldiers, Cpl. Kevin McCray Jones. They were near Al Taqaddum, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near their vehicle. Jones died in the blast, which ejected Rodriguez from the cab, giving her a concussion. She completed the final month of her tour while suffering from severe headaches, survivor’s guilt and mood swings.
Less than three months passed before Rodriguez received deployment orders again to Iraq. Only several weeks into her tour in 2007, she was on a haul in Mosul with one of her soldiers. Again, an improvised explosive device hit her vehicle. Rodriguez hit her head on the inside of the cab, cracking her helmet. The vehicle started to smoke and Rodriguez pull out the other soldier. The two tried to hide, but insurgents were coming after them and blasting their weapons. Rodriguez grabbed her M-16, shooting it until she passed out. When she woke up, she found herself in the hospital. Before coming home, she was put into a medically induced coma, due to her brain swelling.
Back home, she fought to overcome uncontrollable seizures, a back injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2014, a friend persuaded her to go on a whitewater rafting trip when something life changing happened. As she explained in an interview with HuffPost, “It was like freedom all over again. It was like being born again, I guess. It was like I woke up.”
Rodriguez went to college to become a recreational therapist in order to help others. She also volunteers at a number of non-profit organizations that assist Veterans.
Rodriguez received a Purple Heart. In 2013, she received a Veteran of the Year award from Imperial Beach, California. Ford gave her a new 2018 Mustang in appreciation for her service and work with Veterans, which Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson presented to her.
Thank you for your service!
Do you want to light up the face of a special Veteran? Have you been wondering how to tell your Veteran they are special to you? VA’s #VeteranOfTheDay social media feature is an opportunity to highlight your Veteran and his/her service.
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Writer: Michael Veronda
Editor: Brooke Wolfenbarger and Julia Pack
Fact checker: Monique Quihuis
Graphic artist: Katie Rahill